Finishing the Square


In 2005, as I attended the two day retreat after the foundations class (foundations was the name of the class before it was renamed Mizizi), we had an interesting group exercise that remains ingrained in my mind. One of the group tasks was for us to hold hands and form a square. Sounds simple enough, except that we were to be blindfolded and couldn’t speak to each other. I suspect that as you read this, if you think about it, you would, as I did conclude that if indeed the square was the objective, then it was impossible.  

Well, we often hear people talking of “self-made.” To mean that they worked hard, often smart, and the benefits they enjoy now is as a result of their great choices, wisdom and effort. My view is that the concept of “self-made” is utter nonsense. Don’t get me wrong. I am consider myself fairly successful and blessed. However, I know that my situation has been possible largely because of factors that were not mine to determine, and the same can be said of most others who share this view. And so, with this task, an opportunity that I hadn’t planned for came my way. As we randomly took positions in the line of blindfolded folk, I found myself at the very end of the line. That meant that despite being blindfolded, I had greater freedom than most of my colleagues. It struck me that I could move down the line and arrange my colleagues into a squarish arrangement. Talk of the blind leading the blind. All I had to do was to convince them to move to a point I figured was good enough and somehow get them to stand there and wait. And so I did. I moved along the line holding each by the shoulders moving them a few yards and motioning them to stop. We did this for a few minutes. At some point, I felt we had made some progress. I paused momentarily and imagined that we couldn’t do better and so I shouted “done.” As I did that, at least as I remember it now, I knew that the facilitators would have wanted us to keep trying.

At the end of the task, the retreat facilitator, who is now the lead pastor of the Mavuno movement, shared that what he had seen was the best effort he had witnessed on the task up to that point. We had been making good progress, and then, out of the blue, we stopped. It looked as though we we could have done better had we kept trying. Why had we stopped? This is the question he asked. While the task was itself quite difficult, it became clear to me that maybe we could have done better. It occurred to me that maybe I could have divided our number by four then have the required number of people on each side. In a tight fit. This way, the square could have been very close to good. However, I was thinking of this after the task. After bringing it to an end, when it was too late to do it again (Writing this article, first I wrote that I was thinking this after it was too late to correct but now it occurs to me that it was also still not too late! We could have done it again! Even now, it is still not too late! I know. You are wondering why this is such a big deal. Its often said but maybe it really never is too late to start or to correct something you think you should have corrected!).

Sure, no-one had asked that I take lead and responsibility over the team, but only one person could be at the end of the line and it just happened to be me! I didn’t ask for it, but I found myself there. If I did nothing, I we would all fail. However, with leadership, the burden of success falls largely on the leader. If a leader gives his best but still comes short, he’s done his best. However, when a leader is casual, isn’t patient, sees impossibility instead of opportunity, he runs the risk of misleading his team and causing them to form below capacity. So in this case, as a result of whatever was going on in my mind, I let my team down, and a terrific opportunity did not result in the best it could have. Then came Gladys’s answer, “I opened my eyes because Victor siad it was done and I believed him…”

Believe it or not, these events held a powerful position in my life for more than a decade. I considered the task unfinished and the opportunity wasted. In my subconscious it was almost as a prophecy of blessed positioning, fantastic opportunities in life, groundbreaking initiatives, but also not finishing due to indiscipline. The reality of life is interesting as it came to pass that I have found myself in great positions in life: chairman of doctors union, medical director, National champion etc. In all these, I took up leadership and implemented good strategies that were progressive, however, I always felt that I may not have accomplished everything that I could have and strangely, I may not have forgiven myself for that failure. I started a Masters programme and and APGD, both of which are great ideas in good positions but I haven’t finished. I started fearless institute’s leadership bootcamp…

I have recently noticed something about my handwriting: how I write sentences and words to be precise. The first words or letters are relatively clear but the last words or letters are often illegible or simply written down only in my head. I have known for a while now that I have a problem finishing but I hadn’t realized that it was this bad.

Looking back to that event today, I realize the lesson of the experience was the lesson itself: to know that we don’t choose where we are, we are placed in those positions. It is rarely ever, likely never solely our own efforts that get us there. However, these opportunities are also responsibilities and we are required to act with diligence and discipline as our efforts do contribute to success or failure. With this article, I have extended that learning further. It really never is too late. Did you make a mistake in the past? Is there a right relationship that you need to restore but so much time has passed that you think it is too late? Is there an initiative that you started many years ago but you didn’t finish, and now you count it passed because so much time has passed? Is there a talent you have for which you had big dreams but those never materialized? I dare you to recognize that it is you at the end of the line and while it seems impossible, you can and very well should go out and achieve it.

And there is one more lesson. Many times, it is we who look at things as failures. Often, it is us who refuse to forgive ourselves. This is certainly true in the case of the Christian caught in sin our God fully forgives us but we take years to forgive ourselves and drift from his presence (please see my blog post on Chrisitians are sinners).

In whatever area we find ourselves in, we ought to give it our best shot, our very best shot but most importantly, only shout done when it is actually done. For this I apologize to my team and my facilitators in 2005.

A few years ago, I looked for pastor Muriithi and apologized for interrupting the exercise. I believe he said he couldn’t remember but we prayed nonetheless over it, and my finishing.

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